Author: Emily Reimer-Barry

God-talk in the Courtroom

The conclusion of the trial convicting polygamist Warren Jeffs of sexually assaulting two young women has brought some closure to this troubling story about the leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. The Los Angeles Times reports that throughout the trial, Jeffs claimed his religious rights were being violated. He described himself as God’s spokesperson on Earth, and prosecutors played tapes in which Jeffs instructed the victims on how to please him sexually, telling them that in doing so they were pleasing God. Troubling, indeed. Stories such as these damage the credibility of God-talk in our pluralist context. Many will say that it is good to be suspicious of anyone’s claims to know God’s will. We have to have separation between Church and State, they say. And many secular feminists will now have further evidence that religion is dangerous for women. But as Fr. Thomas Massaro argues in his book Living Justice, the Catholic tradition advocates for an ethic of social engagement. Massaro says that Christians must hold together in creative tension their citizenship and their discipleship. Fr. Massaro reflects on Tertullian’s provocative question: “What has Jerusalem to say to Athens?” In his answer he explains that the two most extreme answers to Tertullian’s question (“nothing” and “everything”) are both misguided and dangerous. I think it is worth quoting him at length: To claim that...

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Should a Christian feminist color her hair?

I’m 33 years old and married, and like a lot of other American families, my partner and I are looking at our budget and trying to rethink our spending habits. I don’t think I spend a lot on personal grooming products, but I do wear make-up most days. I get professional haircuts a few times a year. My only salon hair-coloring experience was when I studied abroad in college and went to London’s Vidal Sassoon training school for an afternoon of adventure. It was fun! But on a typical day I don’t spend a lot of time fixing my hair. A couple of years ago, when I started to notice more gray hairs, I started to wonder if I should do anything about it. Some of you are probably rolling your eyes as you read this. I fully admit that this is not a major moral issue. The Catechism doesn’t have a section explaining official Catholic teaching on use of salon products, and for good reason. But I do believe that every decision we make is a moral decision, and that as Christians we should think about our patterns of behavior and about how our behaviors shape our character.  As a feminist I am concerned with the messages women and girls hear—through culture, relationships, religion—about our bodies and about what it means to be “good” and “beautiful.” And as...

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HBO’s Tremé: A Catholic Worldview?

As I understand it, sacramentality expresses the belief that as human beings we can experience God through the “stuff” of life, and that God’s grace is made present through creation. The humble vessels of water, oil, bread and wine disclose the abundance of God’s grace in the seven sacraments. Sacred rituals bring the community together, nurturing the faith of old and young alike. Through the sacraments we come to appreciate the stories of our ancestors in faith, and see our everyday striving in the context of a much larger community–not just of the living but of the dead, or the communion of saints. We can be honest about our brokenness and the realities of sin–personal and structural. But a sacramental outlook sees God at work in this broken world. The HBO television series Tremé, created by David Simon and Eric Overmyer, is set in post-Katrina New Orleans. As a huge fan of the series, I was thrilled to hear that Tremé was renewed for a third season (Seasons One and Two have aired on HBO and Season One is available for download on iTunes and both are available on HBO Go). Why am I such a big fan? Well, part of why I love Tremé is that it reminds me of home (I grew up in Mobile, Alabama). And I’ve closely followed the news about post-Katrina clean-up efforts along...

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Uncovering the “Hidden Rules” of Poverty

How much do you really know about the day-to-day struggles of the poor in the U.S.? If, like me, you find yourself comfortably in the middle class, you might find it difficult to understand the worldview of a person in generational poverty.  This raises serious questions about the appropriate moral responses to such situations, given our call to be in solidarity with the poor and to transform sinful social structures. According to the U.S. Census, the official poverty rate in 2009 was 14.3%, up from 13.2% in 2008. In 2009, 43.6 million people were in poverty in the U.S. Between 2008-2009, the poverty rate increased for children under the age of 18 (from 19% to 20.7%). The current economic downturn has made it even more difficult for families who were already at or below the poverty line. And, as Alison St. John reported yesterday morning on my local public radio station, many California families have found that the social safety net is stretched thinner and thinner. The recent California budget cuts will have a devastating effect in many poor families in California. Starting next week, if families earn even 88% of the federal poverty level ($22,050 for a family of four), they no longer qualify for state welfare benefits. The lifetime limit on receiving benefits will drop from five years to four. And thousands of single moms could lose childcare...

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California Prisoners and the Common Good

On Monday, the Supreme Court ordered the state of California to reduce its prisoner population because of severe overcrowding. In a 5-4 decision, Justice Anthony Kennedy explained that the state’s failure to meet constitutional requirements has caused “needless suffering and death.” The Brown v. Plata decision is published here by the Los Angeles Times. There has been a lot of fear-based reporting of this story, but Governor Brown is not immediately ordering the release of 40,000 violent offenders. How did we get here? A prison system built to hold 80,000 inmates now houses 143,335. Some say that we need to build more prisons. Others argue that the federal government should take over the detention of illegal immigrants so that the state prison system is not burdened with undocumented offenders. Some argue that we need to change the sentencing guidelines to prevent the incarceration of nonviolent offenders who could benefit from drug courts or rehabilitation programs on supervised release. Others say California should change the parole requirements as other states have done. Some argue that the county jail system could house state inmates to relieve overcrowding in prisons. And given the state’s severe budget crisis, the cost of each proposal is going to be heavily scrutinized. The LA Times reports that Governor Brown’s current proposal to transfer some inmates to county jails will cost hundreds of millions of dollars and...

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